1950's Mathis

Come Walk Home With Me
Through downtown Mathis ‘50s

GirlDid the Class of ’65 enter the hallowed halls of the brand new Weber Elementary School in 1953 with a sense of awe and appreciation of that wonderful facility—an attached cafeteria at one end as well as the gymnasium/auditorium at the other? Were there any tears as little hands let go of mommas as we walked into the loving arms of teachers like Mrs. Grace Knolle? Probably a few from the mommas.

I remember that Mrs. Knolle always kept some of daughter Susan’s cute little bloomer outfits with matching skirts on hand in case of any mishaps. She encouraged us to all wear them for comfort and fun.

I hadn’t had the benefit of kindergarten like most of the class and my first embarrassment came with a spelling bee. We were lined up in a couple of rows and I was asked to spell “no”. Mary Ann George whispered N-O so of course I repeated it. Probably the only time I ever cheated, but thank you Mary Ann!

Our school as always brought in interesting and educational programs but none were as exciting as Meadowlark Lemon and the Harlem Globetrotters’ demonstration game around 1955. What a game!

Weber Elementary
Weber Elementary named for Mrs. Fanny Weber, Superintendent

I can remember that we always saved the fish dinners in that cafeteria for Fridays to benefit our Catholic friends, but oh, Mrs. Martha Janak’s great homemade hot rolls were something to look forward to.

We also had rhythm band in the cafeteria. They let several of us try out to lead, and I just couldn’t get the beat. Thank goodness Dee Ann Williams was such a natural and just stepped right in.

How many of us remember running across the playground to the Boatwright’s for piano lessons from Mrs. Flora Beckendorf? What an accomplished musician. I loved to get there early to hear her playing on their baby grand piano. Candy Koepsel said Mrs. B had whacked her on the hand with a ruler once, but fortunately I never felt that discipline. I went to her son Charles’ art gallery many years later, and his wife said Mrs. B. must have taught everybody in South Texas. It seemed everyone from down South who came to the gallery had taken piano lessons from her in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

As we walk down the street from the Methodist Church, we come to the Christian Church and the Glenn Doris home across from the old band hall and FFA. Probably lots of tales to be told about the Mathis Pirate Band!

I had only entered the old Hardin Elementary building back there a few times. Kind of spooky to me. It was built c1904, and it’s too bad it has been renovated and called into duty so many times, it no longer qualifies for a Texas Historical site and marker.

The Mathis Intermediate Building was built in 1956 or 57. Did Marvin Lenz actually fight Bobby Buck over Sue Tennill in 4th grade? Hmmm

Do you remember Kathy Holmes and Nancy Teague rounding us all up for military-style marching around the playground during recess? Nancy remembers that playground dirt and all those horny toads. I guess the horny toads have gone the way of our youth!

I remember that Linda Workman and I preferred to sit in the trees and harmonize with the latest Everly Bros tune rather than march. That ended with her tragic accident in front of Shirley’s Drive In and the funeral on Easter Sunday that year. The family requested that we wear our Easter outfits to celebrate her short little life. Pretty sobering for a bunch of twelve year olds, but there would be many events to influence the lives of the Class of ’65.

But here we are at the Freeze King just across from the old Mathis High School which was to become our Mathis Middle School. We enjoyed many a hamburger and shake there. Great place to work too. The Barrs of the Freeze King and Melvin Creel’s folks at the Dairy Mart kept me in ice cream one whole month the summer I had the mumps!

Do you remember the assignment from Mr. Guresky to measure the whole middle school building and draw up the plans? What about Miss McCulley whaling the dickens out of all the guys in 7th grade? I never knew what caused that, but I sure remember a couple of guys that refused to cry out.

I’m always amazed at the necessity for 15-20 student classes these days. Mrs. Helen Brown had 40-45 students in her homeroom English class back then. Darlene Walker, Brenda Cavasar and I would often have a big weekend sleepover at Mrs. Brown’s to help her catch up with grading. Won’t hear of that happening these days, but we had loads of fun, too! And I suspect the quality of education today doesn’t compare to us of the Class of ’65!

Brownie TroopNow here’s London’s Grocery next to City Hall and the meeting room for our Brownie Troop. Mrs. Mary Lynn Boatwright and Mrs. Nell Tennill were great leaders teaching us crafts as well as nature skills. I was the best cookie salesman that year. I just went to all the businesses on Main St and ran back to the troop room for more. After all, who could deny this little urchin?

There’s the Dobie Funeral Home and the Church of Christ back there. Was it really John Sutherland who put the “We give S&H Green Stamps” sign on the front lawn of the funeral home? After all, Allan Gregorcyk and Don Tennill couldn’t have been too far away!

So here is main street, San Patricio Ave. Then Front St along the railroad tracks. The junctions of those tracks created the town around 1880. Tom Henry Mathis of the “Henry Bend Ranch” owned over 37,000 acres along the Nueces River and dedicated land for the town site. The town grew when the people from Lagarto moved over to the railroads. About that time Roswell Gillett was a land developer who brought in so many of the German farmers from the Guadalupe, Comal, Wilson, and Hayes county areas.

Cattle DriveTom Mathis had actually fenced in Mathis, and one of the four gates was supposedly located near Sue Tennill’s old family homestead. Wonder if she ever went digging or hunting for artifacts from the cowboy days? I think the last cattle drive through downtown Mathis occurred in 1910.

Fred Watson was a Coffin/Mathis descendent and was instrumental in getting a Texas Historical Marker at the site of the old Mathis Ranch headquarters by the Cenizo Hill Cemetery. For a while, Janis Beard and her husband Charley Townsend lived near the area and the old San Antonio Highway or Spanish Trail by the Ranch.

Mathis Ranch HM 

Let’s go back to San Patricio Ave and to the “new” Evelyn’s. Mary Layne Finley and several other girls got to work there. It was originally located downtown in the old Piggly Wiggly Grocery that later became a Western Auto. Best place ever to find the latest in Ladies’ wear and home décor. My Aunt Ginger Fagala loved to buy cute baby clothes for me there “back in the day”.

Here’s the IT Theater. What a treat to go to family night on Wednesday for the weekly drawings. Actually, just having somewhere to go that had air-conditioning was welcome relief. I do believe you really could fry an egg on the sidewalk in Mathis during the summer! But I remember how beautiful the older girls like Gertrude Syma looked as they came laughing down the aisles in bobbi socks and poodle skirts!

When the Ford Distributorship on San Patricio Ave closed, Hanshaw’s Café opened in the big white building. I actually remember my crocodile tears to get to go too when Dad and big brother Shelley went to the farm for early chores. I knew they would stop back by Hanshaw’s for short stacks!

When Heider’s Café opened across the street, we had to stop there on Sunday mornings before Church for pie. My favorite was their egg custard! Oh my, are we starting to see a pattern forming here? Oh, well.

FBC Mathis 

Then we have the tiny little cottage by the old fabric shop/McDonald’s Electric where Dr. Batson had his dental office. Marvin Lenz remembers his first trip to the dentist back in ’57. He knew where it was but kept quiet while his Mom drove up and down looking for it!

I remember running through the Winsauer’s grocery next to McDonald’s to my Dad’s blacksmith shop that faced Bee St. and Moody’s Café. Moody Crenshaw kept “Buttons and Bows” on his jukebox for years because as a three year old, I loved that song so much. Might have been the only time anyone has ever seen me dance on a table!

My Dad was known for passing out nickels and little red scripture memory verse books to all the kids up and down the street. I guess that made Dad a Gideon long before they ever organized.

Do you remember the Mathis Gin back there on Bee St? We kids would roll and play in the mounds of cotton and hulls. We would all have died of asthma in this day and age. If not the cotton, then riding in the wagons like we did as we harvested the maize would have gotten us!

Cotton GinThe Gin was in front of the L. E. Cage Implement with his big Hardware and Gifts opening out to San Patricio Ave.

Now, we had the Bank with banker Mr. J. W. Nelson; Clifton Berry’s Barber Shop; Hobert and Ruth Rouse had the Cleaners; Basset Wright’s Grocery Store. Helen Engler and Alma Henderson had the Hub Drug and bus line. Across the alley was the Piggly Wiggly. We had Keys Pharmacy and later a Moses Dept store across the Street. Leonard Montgomery’s folks had the big washateria on San Patricio Ave before the railroad and South St.

Don’t forget the little comic book, candy, and gum store near the old Post Office and Margaret Berry’s Beauty Salon. Did you ever take a look at that wild contraption with wire everywhere for permanents back in the day? Talk about Bride of Frankenstein. Yikes.

Can’t forget the summers and all the onions and vegetable sheds along the tracks. Big business then. Vahlsing Farms came in about that time. Yes, watermelon was king and many were shipped out of Mathis. It’s hard to find those huge, delicious, black diamond watermelons anymore.

Mathis Grain Elevator set back to the west also along the tracks. Some of those old silos still stand near the Tom Mathis Cemetery on the old Lake Road.

Grain Elevators 

We had the Bealls Chevrolet that was later bought by Allie Holmes on San Patricio and Front Sts by the tracks. They furnished lots of cars and trucks to the townsfolk of Mathis.

But a favorite memory from about ’55 was stopping at Rev. Lopez’ big grocery store after school every day, across from the Chevrolet place. I saved my milk money to buy an apple, and Mr. Lopez always let me buy the biggest and juiciest I could find! Oh, Oh. Here’s my theme again.

Now we have the Wagnon Building on Front St, and two things come to mind about the big white building in back facing Rockport St. That white building housed the Boy Scout Troop that my brother Shelley and Bobby Bauch attended. I thought being a Scout was just about the best thing ever. I was so impressed when we got to go to family night out at Camp Karankawa at Lake Mathis. Mrs. Alma Bauch was the den mother and I remember a Halloween party where they could each have a guest. My brother was not happy that our Mother decided he could take five year old me. The compromise was that no one was to know he was bringing a girl! Mother made me a ghost costume that covered head to toe with just two peep holes, and he said he would kill me if I opened my mouth!

I think that big building was actually a VFW hall, but we later used it for teen dances. The first time I went to a party there, I had no idea we were expected to dance. One of the social graces that I certainly hadn’t learned yet. It was a long night for me. I hadn’t even gotten the “squares” right at all those square dances at Candy Koepsel’s house.

However, down from the Wagnon Building is Sutherland’s Grocery. Then the Wagnon Hardware and little service station. Bomar’s have the Feed and Seed. I usually turned there to pass the Nelsons and the Westover places. There was Tommy and Mike Marler’s, and Tommy Gregorczyk's. Oh, and then Cantu’s Candy Store at the bottom of the hill and another stop!

Up the hill and home. The Roswell Gillett homestead is nearby. I played with his granddaughter Lynn--called “Tiny”, for several years. She was a mighty mite if there ever was one.

The boys in the neighborhood decided to dig a swimming pool in our back yard. They quickly gave up on that, but the hole made a great fort. And caliche rocks made great ammo to chunk at all the girls.

Mother and neighbor Mrs. Hale had worked for months to make my doll clothes one Christmas. And I just adored Mrs. Ruth McCoy. My hair didn’t grow when I was little, but she managed to get it up into two tiny little “puppy tails” with baby blue ribbon. So spiffy, but I’ll bet it didn’t last long.

Another way to my house up on the hill of Fulton St. was to proceed up San Pat from the Lopez store, past Lemos Garage, past the Catholic Church, cut through and play a while in the City Park across from Susan Stone’s where her Dad had the highway department materials, then stopping to play at the ruins of an old gin, then cut through a couple of back yards. I led my whole second grade classmates that way to my house for my 8th birthday party. I think we all had a great time. I hope they enjoyed the walk then as much as I have now!

Second Grade
Back row L-R: Kathy Holmes, Mary Ann George, Ann Groom, Lois Eckert, Linda Chandler, unknown, Allan Gregorczyk, Dee Ann Williams, Unknown
Middle Row: John Sutherland, Unknown
Front row L-R: Lynn Gillett, Candy Koepsel, Linda Rouse, Janis Beard, Tommy Gregorczyk, Albert Syma, Gerry Luther

Fondest Memories on our 50th Reunion year 2015, by Ann Groom Lenz

To The Greatest That are Alive, We’re the Class of ‘65

I’d love to have pictures and your tales to include any of the following and your fondest memories of growing up in Mathis. Thanks. Ann

Copyright ©  Ann Groom Lenz